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Medical student sees cancer essay turned into published journal article

Friday 5 July 2013

Final-year medical student Vivian Leung is encouraging her fellow Barts and The London students to get involved in research, as she celebrates being a co-author on her first published journal article, in the British Journal of Cancer.

Vivian, who graduates this summer, is co-author alongside academics from the Wolfson Institute of Preventive Medicine on a newly published article – ‘Characteristics and screening history of women diagnosed with cervical cancer aged 20-29’.The paper, published in the British Journal of Cancer, is the largest study of women diagnosed with cervical cancer under the age of 30.

In England, women used to be invited for their first cervical smear test when they were 20. However, as evidence increasingly demonstrated that screening women aged 20-24 was not as effective as screening women aged 25 upwards a new policy, whereby women were invited to attend screening from the age of 25, was rolled out by the Department of Health in 2004.

Since then there has been concern that the change in age may lead to more advanced cancers being diagnosed in the 20 to 29 age group, and researching the impact of the policy change is therefore of vital importance.

Vivian said: “I was fortunate enough to join Professor Peter Sasieni’s team last year as part of our curriculum to write an essay on a topic we are interested in. My topic was cervical screening.

“When I told Professor Sasieni that I was aiming for a publication he introduced me to his team and gave me suggestions on what I should write about. We decided to focus on the effect of cervical screening on young women aged 20 to 29. After I finished my essay, we decided to take it to the next level with more expert input, from Alex, Rebecca and Anita at the Wolfson Institute, we finished this project and published this paper.”

The study used data on 1,800 women aged 20-29 who were diagnosed with cervical cancer between April 2007 and March 2012.

The results showed that most cancers diagnosed in women aged 20-29 are screen-detected micro-invasive cancers (stage 1A) with excellent prognosis. As a result of the change in policy there has been a shift in the age at which women are diagnosed; since August 2010 half of all cancers in this age group have been diagnosed at age 25. Although cancer in those aged 20-24 tends to be diagnosed at a more advanced stage, cancer in this age group is rare (accounting for only 12 per cent of cancers in those aged 20-29).

Professor Sasieni, who is author of much of the research which led to the change in cervical screening policy in England, said: “Vivian carried out some excellent work and thoroughly deserves to have her first published article. It’s a great example of how our students can get involved in the cutting edge of research at an early stage.

“While it will not be possible to study the full impact of the change in policy on rates of cervical cancer until around 2015, which will be when the first cohort of women invited for screening at age 25 reach the age of 30, our results have thrown up some interesting findings.”

Vivian, who recently carried out her elective in India, added: “I have learnt a tremendous amount on what writing a paper is actually about and how much work and expertise is integrated into one paper. I would encourage fellow medical students to let people know that you are interested in publishing because there are many ideas around that just need time and people dedicated enough to write them up.”

Vivian will start working as a foundation year 1 doctor in Addenbrookes Hospital in Cambridge this August.

The full paper is available to view on the British Journal of Cancer website at www.nature.com/bjc/journal/vaop/ncurrent/full/bjc2013322a.html.

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